Nystuen entertains senior citizens with saw

This article submitted by Linda Stelling on 11/17/99.

Joe Nystuen playing saw Joe Nystuen, Richmond, joked about making good Halloween music as he made the saw screech. However, the senior citizens attending the Farmers and Merchants State Bank Thanksgiving dinner Saturday were in awe of how he could play music on the saw.

Nystuen at right entertained at the Thanksgiving dinner Saturday at the Paynesville Area High School.

Nystuen thinks saw music probably originated in the Appalachian Mountains of the United States. "People were humble and had to make do with what they had. Mountain people made music with pitchforks, glasses, and saws," he said.

Nystuen first heard someone play the saw on a radio program when he was a sophomore in high school in Canada.

"I was home from school with a broken leg and heard the music on the radio. I asked dad about the music," he said. Nystuen thought he would like to learn how to play the saw. Upon hearing this, his father went to the basement and found him a saw. They then went out and purchased a bow.

"Learning to play was hit and miss. They don't write music books for saws," Nystuen joked. "I discovered that I could change the key by the way I bent the saw and the position of the bow. When you bow the saw up and play on the wider end near the handle, you get lower notes. On the upper end of the saw, the notes are higher," he explained.

Nystuen said he uses a horse hair bow to play the saw.

"Some saws play better than others," he said. "I purchased a newer saw once and found dad's old saw sounded better. I returned the new saw to the store."

"Clerks in hardware stores think I'm strange. I used to check out the saws in hardware stores. They would find me plunking on saws and give me weird looks," Nystuen said.

A hazard of playing saws is that he snags his pants on the blade.

In addition to his saw playing, Nystuen showed those attending the Thanksgiving dinner a Salmodican, an old instrument from Norway. It was made and brought to this country by Haldo Einsarsen Grotte, a klokker (song leader). A Salmodican is a hollowed rectangular beam with a single cat gut string. It is sounded with a horse hair bow.

Nystuen carefully played a short tune on the Salmodican then went back to playing his saw for the audience. Accompanying Nystuen was Paula Geier on the piano.

Nystuen and his wife, Nancy, have been coming to the Paynesville area for 20 years. They have a cabin on Horseshoe Lake and attended Paynesville Lutheran Church while on vacation.

After retiring in August from his position as a minister in Cumberland, Wis., the Nystuens opted to turn their summer cabin into a year-round home.

"Retired life is just great," he said with a broad smile. "I have good memories of the Paynesville area, and it is fun to be back."

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